"The match made in heaven starts Jan 2007." That's how the London Symphony Orchestra is publicising the arrival of Valery Gergiev as its new principal conductor, and on the evidence of last Friday - the first of Gergiev's triple-whammy of Proms - it's an affair that's heating up nicely. Gergiev is far too flirtatious for it to be anything more than an affair. But when half the musical world is looking to get intimate with the man you can't blame the LSO for flaunting its good fortune. It is out to impress - and how.
The LSO's performance of Tchaikovsky's "Pathet-ique" Symphony was among the most inspirational I've heard in many years. It was a performance that defied analysis. The myriad rubatos, the subtle nuancing, the extraordinary range of dynamics seemed to be achieved through a kind of telepathy. That was the magic of it. Gergiev can be erratic. But there isn't another conductor with his ability to engage emotionally with performers and audiences alike - and when he's on he's really on.
Earlier, Yuri Bashmet had shepherded us through Schnittke's Viola Concerto. It felt like a relative of the "Pathetique" and commanded an equal level of respect from its performers.
All the more surprising, then, that Gergiev seemed more score-bound the following night when his Kirov forces arrived. The feeling was that Shostakovich's 13th Symphony "Babi Yar" hadn't been on the stands that recently. The chorus sounded tentative and the bass soloist was insuff-iciently weighty to lend authority to this harrowing chronicle of Soviet crimes. But when "Humour" reared its visage in the second movement the mordancy of brass and woodwind struck the right note of contempt.
Plenty more where that came from in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Liberated from its feeble staging, the Kirov Opera soloists achieved greater immediacy here. But Gergiev appeared to have left some of his outrage in the theatre. It wasn't overwhelming. The Tchaikovsky "Pathetique" was.
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